My understanding of the purpose of the trope (cantillation) notes is that they were initially (Massorah) meant for the purposes of grammar and pronunciation. I've hunted a few web sites, and I couldn't locate anything that states that by Massorah (I.e. when given at Mt. Sinai) these notes had music to them.

I did locate in Talmud Megillah 32a:

ואמר ר' שפטיה אמר ר' יוחנן כל הקורא בלא נעימה ושונה בלא זמרה עליו הכתוב אומר (יחזקאל כ, כה) וגם אני נתתי להם חוקים לא טובים וגו'

R. Sheftiah further said in the name of R. Yohanan: If one reads [Scripture] without a melody or recites the Mishnah without a tune, of him the verse says, “For I gave them also statutes that were not good.” (Ezekiel 20:25).

(Note: I am aware that immediately afterwards, Abaye disputes this statement.)

By making this statement, R. Sheftiah seems to imply that one should sing the Torah reading (See Rashi's explanation, there) stating that he means using ta'amei hamikrah - cantillation notes).

What's unclear from the Gemara's statement are these areas:

  • Is a person obligated ever to sing the notes whether he is reading Torah aloud individually or a congregational setting?
  • If this is, in fact an obligation, did this obligation of music (any music whatsoever; I know that each community developed their own music for the notes) originate from Sinai or is it a Rabbinical obligation that came years later?
  • There were different vocalization systems for grammar before. So we don't know what their music sounded like. It could have been completely non grammatical at that point. Then the masoretic te'amim we received was grammatical, and according to Idehlson, when different communities received this new system, they applied their already existing music to this new system.
    – Aaron
    May 23, 2016 at 18:41
  • @Aaron Interesting info, though, it doesn't completely answer my question. Who is Idehlson?
    – DanF
    May 23, 2016 at 18:45
  • 3
    Idehlson wrote a book series called Thesaurus of Oriental Hebrew Melodies. It's very interesting and he has thoughts and opinions in there that would shed light on what you're looking for. Another great resource for you would be here: jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/3986-cantillation
    – Aaron
    May 23, 2016 at 18:49
  • In kabala the taamim are considered the most holy more than the nekudos tagin and osiyos.
    – newcomer
    May 24, 2016 at 5:23

1 Answer 1

  • Is a person obligated ever to sing the notes whether he is reading Torah aloud individually or a congregational setting?

In a congregational setting one is obligated to sing the notes, and according to some the congregation does not fulfill their obligation if the notes are not sung. (See Beis Yosef 142)

In a private setting:

  • Magen Avraham (285:1) writes that one who is familiar with the ta'amim should read "shnayim mikrah" from a Torah Scroll.

  • According to the Tur (61:24), there is an obligation to read the Shema with the notes (also see Beis Yosef there) This ruling is also brought in Shulchan Aruch (61:24).


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